Since the beginning of the protests against the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police, numerous videos and photos have appeared on social media showing ambulances transporting security forces and carrying injured protesters to police stations.
IranWire has obtained evidence that shows that since the beginning of the protests, officials from Tehran's emergency department met officials from the Sarollah security center and agreed to cooperate. As a result, instead of gratitude, ambulance personnel are now greeted with hostility and abuse by the public.
Sarollah Camp is the security headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in Tehran and are tasked with maintaining the security of the capital and other parts of the region. In times of crisis the Supreme National Security Council can put the Ministry of Intelligence, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Communications, any other ministry related to the crisis, and the police force, under its control.
Staff working within Tehran’s ambulance service have told IranWire that, in the early days of the protests, senior staff went to Sarollah to discuss collaboration. The sources said that Dr. Reza Motamedi, the Technical Officer of Tehran Emergency Department, Mehdi Jafarichi, the district coordination officer, and Yahya Saleh Tabari, the head of Tehran Emergency, agreed to provide Sarollah with ambulances and emergency facilities during the protests. The senior officials communicated their decision in a letter to managers which was not shared with all staff.
One worker told IranWire: "In cases where emergency deployment is required, a meeting is usually held between emergency officials and the commanders and security officers in charge of the event. For example, when a soccer derby is coming up, Dr. Reza Motamedi and Mehdi Jafarichi will go to meet the province's security committee and give directives about how to cooperate, and then issue an executive order.”
“After the meeting with Sarollah, they didn’t issue formal executive instructions, but did advise staff to cooperate with the military and security institutions."
The instructions set out in detail where ambulances, motorbike ambulances, and equipped buses should be positioned. "For example, when they say that the location is Enghelab Square, you cannot stand anywhere in the square; the exact location of the deployment team is determined,” Dr. Rouzbeh Esfandiari, a former doctor of Tehran Emergency Services, told IranWire. “There is always a police car next to the emergency car, and in protests, there are also unmarked cars and motorbikes parked nearby."
According to Dr. Esfandiari, during the current protests, when the injured are taken to Tehran's ambulances or emergency buses, plainclothes officers board the vehicles and take decisions about the patient’s destination.
"If the injured person is not in serious condition, they may be transferred to police stations or Basij bases. If they are in a serious condition that requires hospitalization, they will be transferred to hospitals under the supervision of the IRGC or security institutions, for example, to Baghiatolah and Khatam al-Anbiya hospitals, which both belong to the Revolutionary Guards, or Vali-e Asr hospital, which belongs to the police force.”
Confirming this, one of Tehran's emergency responders told IranWire that plainclothes officers had taken control of ambulances in recent days, and many injured people had been been taken to IRGC hospitals.
Last month an informed source told IranWire that ambulances of Tehran's emergency service had taken those injured in protests at Tehran University of Science and Research to Farvardin Police Station #12 in Eskandari Street instead of the public hospital.
Ambulance service personnel have also told us that their access to information about those they are treating had been restricted.
In recent years, first responders in Tehran have been using a smartphone app called Asayar to enter patients' details, status, mission time, time of transfer to the hospital, and other details.
One told us: "We used to fill out forms. Now the assignment is sent to the phone, and we fill in the details electronically. When we submit it, one copy goes to the center and one copy goes to the hospital, and we no longer have access to the information we have provided."
A paramedic in Tehran province said that in the first week of the protests, he transported several people injured in protests to medical centers, but he was not allowed to record their details: "Now, the system only contains the information of the people who call it directly. I don't know if there is any information about those who are transferred to the hospital by security forces, or whether the communication personnel have access to it."
Another paramedic said that, when he was on the streets in his uniform during the coronavirus pandemic, he was treated with respect, but now he is met with hostility and even abuse.
"People curse us. They are right. I wish there was a solution and that I could stop doing this from tomorrow."
The paramedic now tries to change his clothes at the end of his shift, so that he does not have to walk in public in his uniform.
He urged protesters to show restraint before blocking ambulances. “Not all are transporting protesters [to detention] or security forces. Others are answering normal calls from the public. They may be on their way to [assist the injured at] protests. If an ambulance is not carrying security forces, demonstrators should let it pass quickly so that it can help sick citizens."
"In normal circumstances, two emergency personnel are present in each ambulance, a driver and a doctor or paramedic. One other person may accompany the patient. If there are more people in the ambulance, one should doubt them," the source explained.
There is resentment in the ambulance service about the position frontline staff find themselves in, according to this source. He and his colleagues receive 7-9 million tomans a month ($165-$212) for ten 24-hour shifts per month, but Mehdi Jafarichi, the coordinator of Tehran's emergency districts who has colluded with the Sarollah headquarters, is paid more than 50 million tomans, according to a health-related channel on Instagram which shared his salary payslip.
"This gentleman, with a high school diploma, was employed by his father, who was the head of Tehran's emergency technicians department. At the same time, he was active in the Basij, studied as an emergency medical assistant after being employed in the emergency services, and now he receives a salary of 50 million due to his good service."
IranWire reached out to Jafarichi to ask about his meeting with Sarollah and the use of Tehran's emergency ambulances to take protesters to detention centers. He referred IranWire to the emergency service public relations department. IranWire contacted the department but has not received any answers at the time of writing.